As the province plans for recovery, the town is beginning to slowly bring back services and reopen some public spaces. Provincial emergency orders and the town’s physical distancing by-law remain in effect. We must all continue to follow guidelines from Public Health officials.
Thank you very much for the kind introduction. It’s most impressive, the efforts the Chamber team puts into their events every year. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to our business community. Our sponsors deserve our thanks, too: Cogeco Canada, Ford Motor Company of Canada, CN, Empire Communities and Union Gas. You are so much of the strength of our community. We appreciate you. We appreciate the breakfast you’ve made possible, too.
Distinguished guests, my fellow members of Council, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for your interest in this economic update on our town. Updating the Chamber each year is one of the things I look forward to most of all. It provides the opportunity to describe our challenges and opportunities on our path forward. It provides the opportunity to look at where we are now. And it is a chance for a report card to date of trying to make this Canada’s livable town.
All of you play a pivotal role in the economy of Oakville. You are the leaders and innovators that drive our economy. You know the true value of hard work and creativity and I’m proud to tell you that your Council knows it too. Our creativity and hard work have allowed all of us to build a solid foundation for success for our town. Council and I believe that Oakville’s livability is what creates our success and our success helps create more livability. It’s a virtuous circle. Businesses want to be here. People want to be here. People want to raise their families here. People want to retire here. I believe that everybody, everywhere in Canada wants to someday call Oakville home. Everybody knows we have something special here.
Former Mayor Harry Barrett caught the essence of that when he taught people to say, and I hope that you’ll allow me to teach you to say, “Oakville is a city that calls itself a town and feels like a village”. He liked to say it and I like to say it, to stress that we will never change our title from town to city. There’s absolutely no difference in status or finance or rules or powers between the two words – there’s just a feeling, the Oakville feeling and that’s why we stick to the word town. That saying also captures the essence of our livability, it’s our small town feel and Council and I work very hard to protect that.
We continuously work to improve our livability by challenging the status quo. How we challenge the status quo is by controlling growth, debt and taxes to just what fits economically and environmentally. We continuously increase the efficiencies of what we do. We know that this town doesn’t want to spend a penny more than it has to to enjoy the fine services that it wants to have from its municipal government.
I’m going to make it clear in my remarks that we have two municipal service corporations and most of your Oakville Council and I are on both of them. We all have the same power on each, which is just one vote. We focus on controlling growth because growth causes new taxes, and that’s because of the way the Development Charges Act forces taxpayers to subsidize developers. We’re focused on keeping finances strong and stable even if some of the Province’s laws make that challenging. We’re focused on building facilities that promote our health and our vitality. We’re focused on creating a cleaner, greener and safer Oakville. Our finances are strong. Our economy is booming. Our personal health is great. Our green space is the healthiest you can find in any community anywhere and that’s because we fight so hard to keep it and enhance it. And, our safety is the envy of everyone in the country. Let’s look at each of these four areas, finance, economy, health, and safety.
First, town finances.
Before you elected me as your mayor, your total tax increases averaged 65 per cent more than inflation. Over my last term as mayor, your tax increases averaged 20 per cent below inflation.
In a country that mandates two per cent inflation, and that’s our country, you cannot freeze taxes without having to give things up and I have not met any Oakville residents who want to give up anything that they’ve received from their town or for that matter, in their own lives – we like our services. This year, consistent with Council’s promise to keep total tax increases at or below inflation — the total property tax increase is 1.7 per cent. Inflation stood, for the GTA, at 1.8 per cent last month when we adopted the budget. It’s a promise kept, again, five years in a row.
Now, when we look at our neighbours, Burlington’s tax increase is 2.06 per cent, Mississauga’s is 2.2 per cent, Toronto’s is 2.5 per cent, and Hamilton’s increase has just come in at 2.7 per cent. All these comparisons are on the same apples to apples basis, the total bottom line, the total cost of paying taxes. We manage the finances of the region, the town and the police comprehensively. We fit together the taxes that are required to support the town, the region and the police to keep that total of that tax increase at or below inflation. When any element needs to go up, we seek offsets in all other elements to keep to our target and I’d like to think that’s just what any other business would do.
More than half of Oakville’s Town Council, as I’ve said, has the same power over the finances of each of the town, the region and the police – one vote. So you should not be surprised that we like to report the changes in financial position of the town, the region and the police both as a consolidated total result and also by the individual parts. We want you to know how the individual parts are moving but we also want you to know how they fit together.
Our commitment to controlling taxes helps businesses as well. Oakville’s business tax rate is 1.9 per cent, while our neighbouring cities are at 1.95 per cent and 2.1 per cent. What you get for your taxes is more than just an ever more livable town that attracts the kind of people businesses want to hire to be successful.
Your taxes also provide improved mobility. We continue to strive to make it easier for residents and businesses to move, invest and shop in our community. Transit helps employees get to work. Transit reduces traffic congestion. I try to remind myself when I find myself stuck in traffic that I am traffic. Transit helps alleviate traffic congestion.
With our investment in our new Intelligent Transportation System, this year, people will be able to easily track the bus they want on their smart phones to move around town with ease. If you are worried about catching the bus, you no longer have to go stand and wait in the rain or the cold hoping that you’re there in time for the bus – you’ll be able to know and go efficiently and expeditiously to the bus stop.
We know people need enhanced mobility all across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA). The mayors of the GTHA are working together and have been working together for some years now, to create the improvements we all want to see. We know there is plenty of room to improve mobility, housing and the rest of the economy. But still, the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area is recognized as one of the very best places in the world to live and do business, so we start in a very good place. The Premier’s cooperation with municipalities can help make us even more successful.
This Premier has already collaborated with Mayors to do more. This Premier is already working collaboratively with the Auto-Mayors on legislation for the automotive sector, for example. On March 24, 2015 an historic meeting took place with the Premier and every Mayor and Chair in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. We discussed ways, in a very candid meeting, to improve the ways we work together to improve our residents’ lives. We are now, in my opinion, on the threshold of an exciting new time of cooperation and collaboration among municipalities and the Province. Businesses and residents will be the beneficiaries. We want to make everything across the GTHA work better, for you. If you live here, you may work somewhere else. If you have a business here, you may ship your goods somewhere else. If you provide services, you may travel across the GTAH. We know that business needs efficiency and that productivity is very important and we are out to make a significant difference in this area.
This means the year ahead will see review and coordination of the plans by which we run our cities and towns and the province. Any successful business needs to always check and adapt its plans in response to changes in its environment and customer’s needs.
A critical component of our review of municipal and provincial plans is public impact — we will be seeking public feedback and we’ll come to you to get it, that’s how much we want it.
One plan that we don’t need to review is our Economic Development Strategy here at the Town of Oakville. It’s relatively new, and our economic development plan seems to be working.
This leads me to the second area of this report, our economy. Our local economy is firing on all cylinders when you look at the big picture. We are especially successful in attracting high quality new jobs to town. We focus on attracting new companies and growing established companies.
Our four targeted sectors are advanced manufacturing, professional services, life sciences and digital media and we’re doing very well there. Oakville businesses created 1,700 jobs in 2014, exceeding our annual goal of 1,000 new jobs. Creating a positive environment at the town and region to attract investment and jobs is working.
We have a much lower unemployment rate than the GTA and Ontario. In 2014, our unemployment rate was 4.4 per cent. My undergraduate degree is in economics and economists consider 4 per cent to be full employment. If you had zero unemployment – that would be very hard to find a worker when you need one. There is a concept of a certain amount of flexibility required in economy with regards to work. This rate, at 4.4 per cent was the lowest in Ontario. With these numbers, we receive the respect attached to the work we’ve done to create winning conditions, so you, our businesses can produce these new jobs.
Oakville’s automotive sector is an especially strong driver of employment, innovation and productivity that stimulates our community’s economy. Across the province, it has that same effect and it has a huge multiplier effect – every direct automotive job is said to be worth 9 or 10 indirect jobs. The automotive sector is strong, it is not a thing of the past or to give up on— we should fight to keep it and I hope together we will do that.
As Chair of the Auto Mayors Coalition, it’s been great to see the municipal and provincial levels working together to strengthen the automotive success story. Our goal is there to promote awareness, advocacy and strategic policy initiatives to keep the automotive sector strong and grow it. Oakville will host another industry stakeholder and Auto Mayor Roundtable on May 15, 2015 to keep moving forward on this front. Ford’s leadership in the auto industry has been crucial to get this initiative going. Thank you Ford.
Our economic results include new construction. Last year, the total construction value of commercial building permits issued increased over 39 per cent from the previous year to over $148 million. New construction of $105 million accounted for 71 per cent of the permits issued— almost double the previous year.
As good as our economy is, we have some rough patches, and I don’t want to look away from them. Council is working to create more winning conditions for businesses in our historic main street shopping areas: Bronte Village, Kerr Street Village and the Downtown. We look forward to our next Council meeting on April 13, 2015.
Staff will report on the Downtown Transportation and Streetscape options. This report will help shape the next steps of the revitalization of Downtown Oakville. We appreciate how the Chamber has volunteered to be of help in this process, stepping forward as soon as it became clear that all of us needed to pull together to make this part of our economy, so I thank you.
The third area of this economic update report is our health. We are, quite simply, the healthiest community in the country. And our new state-of-the-art super hospital can only make our health better. Our new hospital is set to open at the end of this year. Your Council made this possible without raising property taxes or electric bills.
This state-of-the-art hospital will add close to 1,000 additional new staff for the hospital. When it opens this year, a whole era of new and improved healthcare services will be available to our community. We are already the healthiest community in Canada. Our residents already live the longest of any community in Canada. And, our health infrastructure is going to pay dividends in increases to our health, and our longevity. Our new hospital will also pay dividends to our economic health. A Life Sciences Technology Park is planned adjacent to the new hospital.
The Life Sciences Tech Park will be a $1.5 billion health sciences campus. The campus will have 4.5 million square feet development of a medical centre, research incubator, hotel, conference facility, office buildings, residential tower and shopping district. It will result in thousands of new jobs, upwards of 12,500 jobs.
The fourth area of this economic update is our safety. We are the safest community in the country for the eighth year in a row. In Ontario, the Police Services Act calls for policing to be effective and efficient. As Chair of the Halton Regional Police Services Board, it is my pleasure to tell you that we are the safest and most efficient. We are the safest community and the most efficient force.
With a very high and climbing success rate for solving crime, our police are also among the very most effective. You will not find a better police force anywhere. Everyone benefits from outstanding policing. Business benefits from outstanding policing, too. Our police force works diligently with business on many fronts to guard against fraud and other kinds of crime that could hurt your bottom line.
So. Town finances. Our economy. Our Health. Our Safety. We can be and we are proud of what we are achieving together in our town with our hard work and our innovation and creativity.
In business, if you are a leader you stand out from the rest. Look at Apple — they are a stand out success, a top brand. Apple has high consumer approval. Well, not to compare Oakville to the success of Apple as a brand, but Oakville is a top brand in communities. People aspire to live here. You should be proud of that, you should be happy about that to if you own a house here because it means it’s likely to go up not down. Satisfaction with the town’s programs and services is extra ordinarily high. Eighty-seven per cent of Oakville residents surveyed last fall stated that they were delighted with their municipal government. Eighty-five percent were elated with town services. We would like to ensure that 100 per cent when we get those results and we dedicate ourselves to working hard to achieve that outcome. We want everybody to be happy. If you have an idea, this Council wants to hear from you. We are a Council that listens. The proudest moment of my career as your Mayor was the evening when we passed the new Official Plan, when a resident leader stood up and said these words, “it feels so good to live in a town where Council listens.” We have dedicated ourselves on Council to keep that spirit and that feeling alive.
We are continuing on our path to create a greener, cleaner, safer, healthier and even more livable town — with lower rates of growth in population, taxes and tax-paid debt than we used to take for granted. There is only one Oakville and it is our commitment to our livability that drives our success and will keep Oakville the place that it is. We owe much of this success to you – the businesses, our residents, town staff, our Council and the many wonderful residents who volunteer to keep strong our charities and other volunteer groups who are working with people in need and social help. These sources create the livability that we are known for in everything we do.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s ask all the members of Council to stand up for a moment of recognition. These are the people who are working so tirelessly and effectively for you. You’ve just heard my report of how well they are serving you and our town we all love so much.
If you like what you’ve been getting from your elected representatives, you should tell them, a little appreciation goes a long way to encourage people to continue to give you the results you like. As for me, I applaud all of them and all of you for making Oakville all that it can be and I know that together that we will continue on the upward path that our town has been on throughout its history.